We recently took a family trip to the third largest country in the world, China. It was just me, my dad, and some of my siblings. My mom and two other older brothers weren’t able to tag along, unfortunately. For most of us, it was our first time and I have to say that China is quite an amazing country. It was like stepping into the future considering that my country is so far behind when it comes to technological advancements. They had subways, spacious roads, and were very imaginative when it came to architecture – which comes as no surprise considering that China has always been known to excel in that field for hundreds of years.
But even with such a positive outlook, I had my fair share of disappointments. China, as we all know, is a communist country so everything is controlled by the government. And when I say ‘everything’, I pretty much mean everything. So for those planning to visit Beijing or Shanghai, below are some things you should know before traveling to China.
The Great Firewall
Restricting their people from accessing banned services and websites like Facebook, Google, Instagram, and some media sites. Yes, The Great Firewall is real. I honestly thought it was just some sort of tagline or that, being a programmer, I could just easily find a way to circumvent that. But I was wrong. Trying to access any of banned sites will result in a connection failure. I tried using a Virtual Private Network program as suggested online but even the VPN service was blocked. I was only able to access blocked sites using browserstack.com, a service that allows you to test websites on different mobile phones and operating systems.
Surveillance Cameras – Everywhere!
In China, everyone is monitored. Everywhere we went, every street, every corner, and every building, there were cameras capturing every angle – it was just ridiculous. In Shanghai, there was a lamp post where there were about 6-8 cameras attached to it pointing in every direction. Did it make me feel safe? Yes, it kinda’ did actually Haha so safe that I could just use my phone in public without the worry of getting mugged. However, the thought that you are constantly being watched over is just plain creepy.
No Means NO
When you are traveling to a different country, it’s a no-brainer that you should respect and follow their laws. China is a very strict country and they aren’t very forgiving to those who violate regulations. When we were at Mao Zedong’s Memorial Building, there was a clear rule that taking pictures and videos weren’t allowed inside. But for some reason, there was another tourist who wasn’t able to take the hint. The guards made him delete the pictures and they confiscated his phone. I’m not sure what happened next as the line kept moving forward but I doubt he got it back. Note to self – don’t be a nuisance and just go with the flow.
I wished someone had told me this beforehand. In China, they use WeChat a lot. For those who aren’t familiar with the app, it’s like their equivalent of Facebook Messenger. When you are using their public Wi-Fi, in some areas, you can use WeChat to log in. The alternative would be providing your phone number so that they can send you an activation code which, for the duration of our stay, I have never received. So before you enter the country, make sure you already have WeChat installed and have an account registered to save you from the hassle.
Sketchy Public Apps
Another thing you would notice when you’re in China is the number of apps they keep pushing you to install. For example, when we were taking the subway train, if you wanted to use the railway’s Wi-Fi you need to install their app. Seems reasonable, until you see the permissions they will ask for your device before installation. Why does it need to read my SMS messages? Or record audio for that matter? That was just a big no-no for me as I value my privacy when it comes to my phone. It really shows how deep the country’s monitoring system goes.
We had a very memorable trip. China is a wonderful country filled with amazing technology and a beautiful history. If you are tourist, make sure to always abide by their laws to avoid getting in trouble. Appreciate everything with respect just as you want other foreigners to respect your own country.